Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks is performing a division-by-division assessment of the 2015 NFL Draft, spotlighting notable picks and handing out grades for each team. Below is his review of the AFC West. (NOTE: Click on the tabs to see other divisional breakdowns.)
Credit general manager Reggie McKenzie for adding the most polished receiver in the 2015 class to the roster, to help second-year pro Derek Carr thrive as an emerging franchise quarterback. Cooper is a plug-and-play pass catcher with the athleticism, route-running ability and ball skills to shine as a WR1. He enters the NFL well-versed in the West Coast offense and has experience playing "Z," "X" or "F" on the perimeter. The Raiders can move him all over the field to help exploit mismatches and give Carr a lethal weapon to target in the clutch.
Some will question the logic behind the Broncos' decision to add another pass rusher to a lineup that already has Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware firmly entrenched as starters. Ray is unlikely to supplant either player for a role on early downs; in fact, he could have a tough time cracking the rotation on nickel downs, based on the skills of each player. However, the pick certainly gives the Broncos insurance against an injury, a decline in performance or a contract squabble involving either Miller or Ware. Considering defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' ability to develop young pass rushers (see: Shawne Merriman, Ware and J.J. Watt), nabbing a dynamic edge player before there's a pressing need for one could pay dividends for Denver down the road.
Hearing scouts call an inside linebacker a "badass" -- which is how an AFC director of scouting referred to Perryman in NFL.com's draft profile -- will certainly make a coach perk up. The term is definitely applicable to Perryman, who pummeled opponents venturing between the tackles on runs during his days at The U. The 5-foot-11, 236-pound menace will add some spice to the Chargers' defense and push Manti Te'o to live up to the hype that preceded his arrival in 2013. With Perryman showing better awareness, instincts and a more physical playing style, it's only a matter of time before he takes over as the heart and soul of the Chargers' defense.
NOTE: Draft hauls are ranked from best to worst within the division.
1) SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: It's vital to land blue-chip and red-chip players during the first few rounds, because those players are expected to form the foundation of a championship-caliber team. Not only are running back Melvin Gordon (a blue-chipper taken in Round 1) and linebacker Denzel Perryman (a red-chipper selected in Round 2) prospects of that caliber, but they are potential Pro Bowlers with the skills to anchor the Chargers' lineup on each side of the ball. Gordon, in particular, gives San Diego its most explosive running back since LaDainian Tomlinson; he'll help alleviate the pressure on quarterback Philip Rivers to carry the offense. Perryman is a hammer in the box with the grit, toughness and physicality needed to transform the perception of the Chargers' defense. Expect him to find his way into the starting lineup early in his career. Cornerback Craig Mager -- a talented small-school prospect with intriguing physical tools -- is a bit of a wild card. GRADE: B
2) KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Coach Andy Reid and GM John Dorsey are prone to selecting prospects with the prototypical physical traits needed to survive in the NFL. Consequently, the Chiefs' draft board tends to look a little different than most, because size, length and athleticism are valued at a premium. First-round pick Marcus Peters certainly qualifies as a prototypical cover corner prospect, based on his physical dimensions and refined game, but questions about his attitude caused some to label him a character risk. If Kansas City can keep him heading in the right direction, Peters could become the lockdown corner the team has needed for years. Receiver Chris Conley (Round 3) is an interesting developmental prospect as a potential WR3. He is an explosive athlete with solid collegiate production, though he'll need to polish a few parts of his game to earn a significant role. Keep an eye on linebacker Ramik Wilson (Round 4) as an underrated player who carves out a niche as an eventual starter. GRADE: B
3) OAKLAND RAIDERS: The Raiders have started on the road back to respectability by acquiring a number of good players with blue-chip talent and blue-collar mentalities. First-round pick Amari Cooper certainly embodies this premise as an ultra-talented playmaker with a refined game. Athletic tight end Clive Walford (Round 3) figures to be a big body that quarterback Derek Carr can pinpoint between the hashes and down in the red zone, when the field condenses. Defensive tackle Mario Edwards Jr. (Round 2) is viewed as a questionable pick in some circles, but the Florida State standout is a versatile defender capable of lining up inside or outside in a three- or four-man front. He could emerge as the base defensive end in the Raiders' scheme, enabling Khalil Mack to hunt from the back side. If Edwards controls his weight and plays with a consistent motor, he could be the linchpin that allows the Raiders' defense to attack at the line of scrimmage. GRADE: B-
4) DENVER BRONCOS: To the surprise of many, the Broncos moved up to snatch Shane Ray at the bottom of the first round. The energetic pass rusher is a disruptive force off the edge poised to benefit from playing behind Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware in the rotation. He could eventually succeed one of the Pro Bowlers as a designated pass rusher in the lineup. The Broncos wisely beefed up their offensive line to better suit new coach Gary Kubiak's zone-based running scheme. Tackle Ty Sambrailo (Round 2) and center Max Garcia (Round 4) are a little raw, but both are capable of climbing to the second level to cut off defenders running to the ball. If the young duo develops quickly, the Broncos could end up fielding a balanced offense in the twilight of the Peyton Manning era. GRADE: B-